Dickinson might soon get a career and technical education center after all.

Monday, July 13, the Dickinson School Board approved a $100,000 escrow payment to hold the Halliburton Bakken Campus on 270 34th Street in Dickinson while the Dickinson Public Schools District vets the property for the viability of using it as a CTE center.

The idea to use the 40-acre property with a seven-building complex for a CTE center came from the CTE Academy Taskforce's participant Ryan Jilek, who is also the executive vice president of Stark Development Corporation. District 37 Reps. Mike Lefor and Vicky Steiner and District 37 Sen. Rich Wardner, who are all also on the taskforce, aided the district in the process.

Offers on the property were due June 30, leaving the district with little time to think about the decision. They submitted a letter of interest hoping to at least get a spot at the table. Their $6 million bid was accepted.

As part of the vetting process, Dickinson School Board members have already toured the property, as have Dickinson State University President Stephen Easton, Dickinson High School Principal Kevin Hoherz, DHS Assistant Principal Jay Hepperle and Dickinson Middle School Principal Marcus Lewton.

In escrow

"In our case, the escrow is just simply a $100,000 statement that says we are serious about entering into our sales agreement, which is being drafted as we speak," said Shon Hocker, Superintendent of Dickinson Public Schools. "Once that sales agreement is agreed upon, we have some time similar to a residential property purchase ... where you get to do some inspections and some things to make sure what you think you’re buying is legitimately what you’re buying. ... Usually you get about a month or so in the corporate world to go through some of those practices."

During those 30 days, the school district will determine the viability of purchasing and repurposing the complex. They'll see how many classrooms they could make out of the space available and get an estimate on utilities. Since Halliburton used various chemicals on the property, the district will check with the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure the property would be safe for students and staff.

They've already had the fire marshal walk the property and have called the city's planning and zoning department to ensure they can convert the property from industrial to public use.

If the district determines that the project is not financially feasible, they can withdraw from the agreement.

"We just want to make sure that we're painting a picture that this is a done deal because something could come up. Maybe through our conversations that we're having with lots of different entities, we learn that our $5 million preliminary estimate for remodeling is closer to $10 million, then that starts to get kind of pricey," Hocker said.

The school board may authorize full payment at its next board meeting, August 6.

Cost estimates

The assessed value of the property is just over $20 million, but the district believes the value to be higher, nearly $60 million. Halliburton accepted the district's bid for $6 million.

Given that the buildings in the complex were constructed for industrial use, it will take some money to repurpose them for educational use.

"We basically are trying to have some people who have a little better knowledge of cost estimates than somebody at the district would have to give us some guidance, but it’s going to be very ballpark range," Hocker said. "We don’t have time in this purchase and sale agreement to really go out and get bids and estimates that are really detailed."

Currently, the district is roughly estimating that it would need to spend $4-6 million to prepare the buildings for students.

"All we're doing is picking at people's brains right now and trying to get some very generic estimates so the board can make a decision. ... A fair example might be to (take) your very best guess and then double the amount, ... but you've just got to figure out whether or not you can make this work," Hocker said.

Fortunately, the buildings are fairly new, having been built in 2013. They're still in good shape, according to Easton, who toured the building with the school district.

"They’re up to code. They’re sprinklered. They’ve got a lot of components that we need to have in there already," Hocker said.

Funding would also have to be available for equipment, additional faculty and staff and maintenance of the 113,830-square-foot property.

"You can't add 100,000 sq.ft. property to anybody's portfolio without a fair amount of expense associated with that," Hocker said. "I could see the school district alone needing to hire at least one ... maintenance kinds of personnel to keep up the property. The amount of concrete out there alone, to push snow, the amount of lawn to mow out there, it's considerably more."

The purchase of the Halliburton Bakken Campus would shave approximately $20 million off of a future high school bond referendum.

Funding

The district wants to ensure that it can cover the costs of purchasing and repurposing the buildings in the complex on its own, given the uncertainty of outside funding; however, it will still seek other methods of funding including private fundraising and a matching grant from the state.

The North Dakota Legislature has set aside $30 million for career and technical education. The funding would be in the form of a matching grant for two facilities — one in the eastern part of the state, and one in the western part of the state.

In January, when the money was still being considered, Sen. Rich Wardner told The Press he thought Dickinson stood a chance of getting the matching funds for a facility.

"I do because we're one of the bigger communities," he said. "We have a bigger population. There are other communities in the west, but as far as having the number of students, we would have the most. But remember, we've got a lot of the small schools around us that could take advantage of this."

Lefor said the taskforce would try to reach Halliburton about the possibility of them donating the semis on site for CDL training.

The district has $10 million in its building fund, $6 million of which it could use to purchase the building.

"We initially said we would apply it to the high school referendum to help us build the high school so we could get those numbers down as low as possible. Then we said let's use that $10 million to build an elementary school. It's the same $10 million no matter what we do with it," Hocker said.

Partnership with DSU

The school district has been talking with Dickinson State University for a while about ways they could partner for CTE programs.

"Our approach to all of this has been to create partnerships in our community that would create incredible opportunities for our students as well as post-secondary students through partnerships with DSU," Hocker said. "All of those kind of rolled into an innovative, state-of-the-art program, something that would draw people here to Dickinson and help flourish our workforce. … Prior to COVID, we had a 2.5% unemployment rate, and workforce was obviously a big challenge for our community. "

Should the option to purchase the Halliburton complex be feasible, some of those ideas could come to fruition.

"At Dickinson State, we are very excited about that possibility. It would really put a nice kickstart to our timeline on our dual-mission programs," said Stephen Easton, President of DSU.

Hocker said the purchase of the building would speed up the process of expanding career and technical education in the high school as well.

"One of the beautiful things of having an existing building purchased like we're maybe going to do is that we can move this process along a little faster rather than waiting for the legislature to approve a grant, then build something, then start the program. ...

"We want to actively work to have that building utilized no later than this time next year," he said. "If we could do it sooner, we would. We need to make sure that our program is innovative and meets the needs of the community."

The district has already been partnering with the university for sports and academics, and this year, approximately 125 high school students will take classes on the university's campus.

Talks about CTE cooperation between the district and university are ongoing, and no plans are absolute yet.

"We think that, in some instances, we may be able to have instructors with areas of expertise that would be valuable both at the high school level and on our level. A perfect example of that could be ... an instructor that would teach some welding courses at the high school level and teach for us at the higher education level," Easton said.

Hocker would like to see that Dickinson High School students could work toward or obtain certificates or an associate degree through such a partnership.

"If ... our high school kids could get the first few phases of some certificate accomplished, and they could finish that certificate through Dickinson State University’s dual-mission plan, there’s a significant likelihood that those kiddos, now young adults, would have an opportunity to go out into the work world right here in Dickinson. What a benefit that (would be) to them as well as our local businesses, too," he said.

Lefor said the taskforce would like to get Dickinson Catholic Schools and other area schools involved in the CTE center as well.

"If they're studying for their two-year certificates here, the likelihood of them staying here is so much better. We know we have a workforce shortage, and also a shortage of educational programs for what is needed in this part of the state," Lefor said.